Kingdom Hearts 2 - Staff Review  

Key Alterations
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

30 - 35 hrs.


Rating definitions 

   The long awaited next chapter in the Kingdom Hearts series, Kingdom Hearts 2, makes some changes to the original formula, some good and some not so good, but fans of the series will certainly find a lot to love. The game provides an exciting, if at times cryptic, continuation of the series story line, and on the whole, provides a fun and entertaining experience. The game does have some spotty and often corny dialogue, and the plot as a whole lacks the strong central theme of the original, but it also does a better job of tying the individual stories of the Disney worlds together into a cohesive tale. In the end, Kingdom Hearts 2 is a fun, easy romp that will most likely not appeal to gamers who disliked Kingdom Hearts, whether on principle or for dislike of the game mechanics, but it is a reasonable improvement to the first title that should please fans of the series.

   Some of the biggest changes take place in the combat system. The game still runs on an action-RPG frame, but Soraís style of fighting is vastly different. In the first game, Soraís attacks tended to be straightforward and powerful, aimed at destroying an opponent through sheer brute force. In Kingdom Hearts 2, Sora finesses his attacks, linking spinning ground attacks with swirling, flipping aerial attacks, knocking his foes into the air and slamming them back into the ground. While the button-mashing nature of combat makes this game ridiculously easy, watching Sora bat his opponents around is entertaining by any standard.

   There have been a number of additions and alterations to the combat system, such as Drive Forms, in which Sora absorbs one or both of the other party members in order to transform into a vastly more powerful attack form for as long as the Drive Meter holds out. These forms are actually one of the more entertaining ways of fighting in Kingdom Hearts 2, as the attacks they use tend to be over-the-top and highly damaging. Secondly, the game features Limit commands, powerful dual attacks, joining with other party members to perform a multi-hit technique. Limit attacks consume all of Soraís MP in order to do this, but are usually enough to destroy whole groups of foes. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Reaction Commands. By pressing the triangle button at the right time, Sora will launch into a situation-specific move that can do anything from avoid attacks to deal massive damage to open up new avenues of attack. These changes to the combat system have the effect of making fights more dramatic, but they also reduce the overall challenge of the game. Once a Reaction Command becomes available, there isnít much the player needs to do except mash the triangle button and watch the effect. Normal battles can be decided on basic attacks, but even basic enemies tend to have Reaction Commands associated with them, and a fight can often be ended just by using a Reaction Command once or twice. Overall, the combat system retains its overall simplicity, but the new additions have the effect of reducing the challenge of the game in exchange for a more cinematic approach. The game has some truly grand battles in it, but the lack of any real challenge make it a bit unsatisfying.

Each world has a highly unique look and feel. Each world has a highly unique look and feel.

   Control has been improved somewhat since the first game, particularly in the area of camera control. Rather than being controlled by the shoulder buttons, the camera is now manipulated by the right Analog Stick, a change which makes it much easier to keep track of targets in the heat of battle. The downside, however, is that the menu controls have now been moved over to the control pad, meaning that Sora has to stop moving in order to use the menu. Given the pace of combat, using the combat menu system can be difficult even at the best of times. Other than that, control is very solid. Even with the variety of game modes Kingdom Hearts 2 throws at the player, control always feels intuitive and easy to use.

   Like its predecessor, Kingdom Hearts 2 uses a variety of remixed Disney music in an attempt to replicate the feel of each world visited by Sora and company. While the visuals are far more effective than the music at recreating the style of each world, and while Yoko Shimomura does a fine job of dealing with the Disney themes, the new material composed for the game is by far the best part of the soundtrack. Overall, the music does a very good job of matching the scenes, and stands very well on its own. The voice acting is also quite good, and although there are one or two voices which are just grating, the majority of the actors clearly know their business quite well.

Reaction Commands are almost always the key to defeating bosses. Reaction Commands are almost always the key to defeating bosses.

   The plot of Kingdom Hearts 2 follows the story of Sora, Donald and Goofy following the events of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. The story is a little mind-boggling at the start, and won't make much sense to people who havenít played both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. The story itself works along similar lines as that of Kingdom Hearts; Heartless are invading Disney worlds, disrupting the stories taking place within. Kingdom Hearts 2 adds in a second group of enemies known as Nobodies and the mysterious hooded group of shadowy figures known as Organization XIII, and the overall effect on the story is a greater focus on the conflict between the Heartless and the Nobodies rather than on the stories of the Disney worlds. The game continues the theme of the first game; the nature of human hearts and that of Light and Darkness. Unfortunately, its grasp on these themes is far looser than the plot of the first title, and the end result feels more like an attempt to tie up loose plot threads than a full-fledged story. It does do a very good job of character development, and the game has a very solid approach to the cinematic aspects of storytelling, but there are parts of the tale, particularly near the end, that feel like they could have been done better.

   The overall design of Kingdom Hearts 2 takes a slight departure from the original title, becoming a little darker and more adult to match Soraís increased age. The visual style is still more Disney than darkness, but the sharper design is well executed, and fits in with the Disney worlds without being excessively childish. Kingdom Hearts 2 also does a very good job with animation, particularly facial animation. There are a few character models that donít work as well as they should, but the game does something which has been a serious problem in the past; the issue of lip sync. Character mouths move believably relative to the spoken lines, a feat which previous titles with full voice acting have had a hard time doing. The visuals also manage to replicate the animation style of the various Disney movies involved in the story quite well, and yet still mesh with the original aspects of the design, resulting in a surprisingly cohesive visual style.

   In the end, Kingdom Hearts 2 takes what was best about Kingdom Hearts and makes it better, while improving on the parts of the first game that most required attention. It isnít without its own issues, of course - a general lack of difficulty even with multiple difficulty settings, and a somewhat limp ending to an otherwise involving plot mar the overall experience - but a dramatic approach to combat and an entertaining cast of well-written and well-executed characters makes Kingdom Hearts 2 an entertaining play. Itís not a horribly long title, but the experience is fun while it lasts, and with a bevy of entertaining modes of play, Kingdom Hearts 2 makes a well-rounded sequel to an excellent game.

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